“That was an And 1!”
Mableton (Ga.) Pebblebrook senior Collin Sexton exclaimed that at an official during his team’s 57-53 win Saturday over Nashville (Tenn.) Brentwood Academy in a Culligan City of Palms Classic first-round game at Suncoast Credit Union Arena.
But ask the five-star Alabama signee’s coach, George Washington, in his fifth year leading last year’s Georgia’s Class
6A runner-up, if his star player’s mouth gets in the way of his play, he’ll tell you it’s all part of the bigger picture.
“I constantly tell him that he has to find ways to stay engaged in the game, even though he’s talking,” said Washington, whose team is located in suburban Atlanta. “He’s got to be engaged in the game and remain coachable, but there’s a fine line. I don’t want to take that from him, because that’s his way of getting going. I’ll say, ‘This is the way you go, this is where you can’t.’ It’s always a juggling act.”
It’s hard to argue with the rationalization when Sexton, a 6-foot-3, 175-pound point guard, is the best player on the floor. Against the Eagles, Tennessee’s Division II-AA champion last year, Sexton put up 24 points on 8-of-17 shooting, hauled down six rebounds, handed out two assists and produced a steal.
And that stat line is important if the Falcons want to keep moving forward in this tournament. They’ll face Memphis (Tenn.) East Monday at 9:15 p.m. with a trip to the semifinals on the line.
“This is the crème de le crème,” Washington said of the City of Palms. “This is the event of high school events. We’ve played in a lot of high school events, but this is the one you always dream of playing and coaching in. The guys are really excited about this.”
If you ask Sexton, whose hair is as big as his personality, his trash-talk is never explicit or malicious. The guard’s mouth is a personality trait he attributes to his mother, Gia, and brother Jordan.
“It just makes me go to another level,” said Sexton, who was the MVP on the USA U17 team that won the FIBA World Championships in Spain over the summer. “Some games are really boring, so I have to talk to myself and keep myself motivated and keep myself in the game. Sometimes I’ll go out there and be passive. But when I talking — “Oh yeah, let’s go” — it hypes me up. I have to keep talking.”
Just two years ago, barely anyone knew about Sexton, now a five-star prospect viewed as one of the best point guards in the Class of 2017.
Washington thinks it all came down to one game in 2015. Last December the Falcons matched up against Oakland Bishop O’Dowd at the Under Armour Holiday Classic at Torrey Pines.
Sexton put it all together during that 74-48 win, scoring with his usual verve (37 points) but also completely dominating the game around him. He added six rebounds, five assists and three steals.
“When we were in California, it opened a few eyes and showed everyone I can play with anyone,” Sexton said.
He was still relatively unknown nationally, even unranked in some recruiting circles. Following his junior season, when he scored 29 points per game, he ripped through the EYBL circuit, playing in front of big-time college coaches every weekend and leading the summer basketball league in scoring.
Then Team USA came calling with an invitation to the U17 games in Zaragoza, Spain. Sexton made the squad and was its leading sixth man. His play was so important that he was named MVP after scoring 17 points a game and hitting 8-of-9 shots in the gold medal game against Turkey.
“One thing I told him he has to do in high school basketball that he did at the USA level was, he defended at a high level,” Washington said. “He got his teammates involved early. At the end of the games he can take over. He has to do the same things for his high school team.”
By the coming fall, everyone knew about Sexton. It was almost like he became a top-25 prospect overnight. He had scholarship offers from the best college basketball programs in the nation, including Alabama, Kansas, North Carolina State, Arizona, Connecticut and Florida, among others.
“I feel like people think I might get the big head and stop working, but for me I’m just going to continue to keep working and try to get better in every aspect of the game,” Sexton said.
On recruiting trips, Sexton knew what he was looking for with a coach and a program. He needed the family environment his mother and brother gave him at home in Georgia. Kansas was chasing hard, but Alabama ultimately became the senior’s decision.
“People don’t know, I’m a family person, so the family environment was big,” he said. “I went to some other schools, the coaches barely interacted with the players or talked to them. Going to college, I have to have another family to trust and trust.”
With the Crimson Tide, whom Sexton signed with in November, he found a home with head coach Avery Johnson — a former NBA point guard and coach.
Washington says the only thing left for Sexton to achieve is win a state championship and continue to prove to others that his ability is not overblown. With his raised profile comes accolades, including a likely trip to the McDonald’s All-American nod, but that doesn’t faze the guard.
“Just getting in the gym every day and continuing to grow as a player,” he said.
The Falcons started the season 5-3, but that included three losses to USA Today Super 25 teams Montverde Academy (4), IMG Academy (5) and Fairfax (Va.) Paul VI (14).
Sexton had huge games in all of the losses, including a 39-point outing against IMG in the Holiday Hoopsgiving tournament in November.
But a championship in the City of Palms? That might make it all right.
“We’re here to win,” Washington said. “We saw RJ Barrett (of Montverde Academy) earlier this year and we told him we’re coming from him. We’re going to get him back.”
“We’re going to go out there and shock them,” Sexton said.
To Sexton, that’s not trash talk.